Knowledge and Understanding of the World Montessori with Mother Practical Life/AEL The Environment The Natural World

10 ways to an Imperfectly Montessori Autumn

Come back and look at these leaves!

Autumn is a wonderful time with young children, unless it’s raining, and here it is usually raining. Nonetheless that makes for jumping in muddy puddles (or lying in them and rolling around like a hippo in a mud-bath while you weep silently under the stony judgement of strangers.)

When they are one, they will eat the colourful leaves and you will forever be unfurling determined fingers clasped around acorns and berries before they get near mouths.

When they are two, they will spend hours dropping tiny pebbles and acorns through drain covers while icy rain drips down your neck.

You will attempt to make pumpkin baked goods and things with cinnamon and all-spice. Most of which will end up in toddler’s mouth, nothing will rise, and the mess will be up the walls and on the ceiling. But there will be a warm autumnal glow for a few minutes there.

Then they are three and the time for different activities has arrived! This is where the fun begins, as they are probably no longer trying to put conkers up their nose or licking toadstools. Now is the time for long nature walks in the woods, collecting interesting things to use at home.

Here we have an interest table with some things we collected on our walk. We have conkers, acorns, chestnuts, pine-cones and (gasp) some decorative leaves I ordered on Amazon. We could use real leaves but they were really wet and my pockets where full of disintegrating mulchy bits five minutes into the walk.

My four-year-old is interested in sorting at the moment, so I found a sorting game and removed the plastic fruit. She chose tongs to sort the items we had found into the different compartments, but she found them too stiff to use. We hunted for other things we could find for transferring and tried children’s chopsticks, a small scoop, a spoon and randomly a candle snuffer she is rather taken with for some reason.

I am going to leave this activity out on her interest table as she is enjoying returning to it, and next we will see how many we can fit in each section using number cards, estimation and counting. We can use the kitchen scales to weigh them and see which is heaviest. Then can play sink or float in a vase of water. Finally she will want to use them to decorate the house, and they will end up covered in glitter and so will we.

Everyday over the next month we will paint, draw, thread and stick things we find and make to hang around the house. Husband will hit his head on garlands and wreaths and will grumble incessantly.

The house that autumn threw up in.
10 ways to kick of an imperfectly Montessori autumn.
  1. Set up an autumn storage box that you can add to each year with decorations, arts and crafts, stencils, activity books, and anything that doesn’t rot. If like us, you don’t have the space to lay out trays of appealing activities on perfectly curated shelves, then this is a way of ‘following the child’ by seeing what s/he is drawn to.

Ours is full of artificial coloured leaves, pegs and twine (for making garlands), printables, pictures, books, Hallowe’en colouring and activity books, pumpkin buckets, and lots of tissue paper and craft paper in gold, orange, red, yellow, black and brown. These are often dirt cheap after Hallowe’en when the stores start bringing out their Christmas stock, so it’s worth picking up then and keeping for the following year.

Having seasonal boxes lets the children get excited about ‘new’ things to use creatively, and lets you store the things you don’t need the rest of the year. A tip that worked for us is to have a cheap magnifying glass in each seasonal box so you can easily create an investigation tray/table without having to hunt for the one you bought last summer which is buried under a hundred soft toys.

Let him/her have a good look and sort through the box, picking out the things s/he finds most interesting and let activities develop from that.

2. Fill a display folder with print outs and pictures and let your child choose an activity. This is another way to give your child autonomy over their choice of work without turning your living room into a Montessori classroom. Most importantly it works like a ready meal for kids – when you’re tired and your brain doesn’t work just chuck the folder at them and have coffee.

Here are some ideas for an autumn folder:

  • Printouts of autumn-themed cutting, tracing, colouring and threading activities from those really organised people that make you feel bad on Pinterest. They have free printables and it’s worth signing up to a few of them for fantastic resources.
  • Recipes with pictures
  • Pictures of arts and crafts ideas. Those infernal children’s magazines filled with plastic tat that grandparents buy for them actually serve a purpose here if you cut out the activities.
  • Scavenger hunt and nature trail sheets.

3. Collect conkers and acorns on a nature walk for sorting.

Make an easy sorting game by dividing a plate into a few sections with a market, and collect leaves, acorns, conkers, chestnuts, and pinecones on a walk. While making sure little ones aren’t stuffing them up noses and in mouths, encourage transferring skills by providing a spoon, tongs, or chopsticks to sort them from a bowl to the sections on the plate.

4. Set up an autumn interest table.

In the classroom this will be a carefully curated and artistic collection of natural world objects designed to inform and educate the senses. At home you will enjoy creating it with your child and adding interesting things collected on nature walks. Your child will add any old plastic tat they find lying around, 80 crayons and half the contents of the craft box. They will refuse to tidy it and you will be too tired and still have to do the laundry, call the plumber and return six overdue library books. It may get sorted out at the weekend only to start the cycle all over again next week.

Interest table at the start of the week.
Interest table at the end of the week.

5. Make autumn decorations.

This work helps fine motor control, develops muscles in the hand, uses pincer grip and furthers coordination.

  • Use twine, leaves and pegs to string up garlands, which you can add to with pictures and other creative masterpieces.
  • Make suncatchers with clear sticky paper and coloured tissue for the windows, cut out leaf shapes to colour.
  • Make wreaths with old wire hangers bent into a circle and covered in tissue paper, leaves and pinecones.
  • Paint some little pumpkins and pine cones. Even if you ardently opposed to glitter, somehow it will magically appear and explode everywhere.

6. Sensorial work with spices.

Spices are fun for young children to explore as they practice opening and closing, pouring and transferring, differentiating by smell, and making a mess if you turn your back for a millisecond. It does feel nice and autumnal though and can lead into different extension activities.

  • Avoiding pepper (unless you are feeling particularly wicked), set out a few identically shaped jars with traditional autumnal spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. Try to find the spice in its original whole form and place next to the jars so they understand how ground spices are made. Use a pestle and mortar to grind them, or a mini nutmeg grater.
  • Line them up and encourage her to open the jars (strengthening muscles in the hand, development of fine motor skills, independence, and pincer grip.) Pour some out and match the spice to the jar. Try to differentiate between them by the strength of smell or preference, and guess which lid matches the jar based on matching the smell.
  • Make fragrances with the spices by adding a teaspoon into a jar of warm carrier oil. This can be dabbed on radiators with cotton wool, or onto pieces of dried bark and pinecones to gently scent the home.
  • Explore the origin of spices, the spice trade, the merchants, and the old silk road. Use the continents globe and maps to place the spices and show the routes of merchants and ships in the spice trade. Roleplay buying and selling spices, using little bowls, spoons, scales, and money.
  • Use the spices in baking and cooking. Find recipes in books or online, try making different cookies, tarts, pies, soups, and teas.
  • Use a dustpan and brush, cloth, and hoover to clean up, while you relax.

7. Feed local wildlife and set up a camera.

Although there is plenty of food around early autumn with nuts, seeds, berries and mushrooms, now is the right time to set up a wildlife watching station for the winter. Helping to care for wildlife can encourage a love of nature in young children and show them how everyone has a responsibility to care for our environment and the animals who live there.

  • Set up a bird table, bird feeders, and water bowls in your garden, provided it isn’t a cat’s hunting ground. Encourage your children to change the water frequently, top it up, and crack the ice when it is cold. Rub bread crusts into crumbs over the table, and add chopped up leftover fruit and veg, cold cooked rice (never raw), and cereal. The RSPB has a list of what you can and can’t feed wild birds here.
  • Hang pinecones smeared with peanut butter, or lard/suet and seeds, and thread orange slices with string on tree branches.
  • Collect fallen apples and slice them to freeze ready to defrost for the birds during the winter. If there is an overabundance of acorns and chestnuts locally, save a few bags worth for the squirrels in winter which you can spread around when it’s snowy or the ground is too hard to dig for their hidden stash.
  • If you set up a wildlife camera you may see a variety of wildlife, particularly at dusk and dawn though make sure it’s on your private property or you might end up living the plot of a bad crime thriller.

8. Develop an autumn themed library

These are our autumn books, which are lovely albeit highly anthropomorphic, fantastical and even touchy-feely. So not remotely Montessori, but new books are expensive and I can’t afford the library fines for forgetting to return them on time. We love to read these, with their warm autumnal colours and beautiful illustrations.

Autumn (Ailie Busby) is a beautifully illustrated board book that can’t help but get you excited about the season, with wonderful depictions of collecting conkers, baking and playing outside.

That’s not my hedgehog (Fiona Watt) and It was a Cold, Dark Night (Tim Hopgood) are a nice introduction to local wildlife, hibernation, and the changing seasons.

In the Night Box and Sweep (Louise Grieg) are stunningly imaginative books about children and their control over the world, managing emotions and the illustrations are dreamily beautiful with autumnal colours.

Fox’s Socks (Julia Donaldson) is a lift-the-flap board book (great for fine motor control and pincer grip) with the usual rhyming structure that makes her such a beloved author.

Pumpkin soup (Helen Cooper) never fails to make us feel warm and cosy, and excited about pumpkin picking.

Off the back of this book we have made pumpkin soup, learned about bagpipes and listened to them (the less said about that the better), explored the predator and prey dynamic and the food-chain, discussed feelings and how we can make sure our friends feel appreciated and not left out, and how to communicate our needs clearly. (If only the duck had explained he would like to try a different role in the soup-making enterprise instead of stropping off in a huff.)

We have also had lengthy conversations about the probability of a cat, a duck and a squirrel sharing a home, whether animals can appreciate music, the appropriate food for herbivores vs carnivores, the significance of opposable thumbs, and whether a bear, a wolf, a fox and a witch are likely to live in the woods. Not bad going for a book about three irascible animals with an unhealthy obsession with making soup.

9. Make autumn scented candles.

I have made my own scented candles for years since I realised how much I was spending on my addiction to them. I buy a bag of pre-assembled wicks, some soy wax pellets and reuse old candle jars. If making them as gifts, then you can buy containers and labels and make sure the recipients use a candle plate underneath.

If you do the melting and pouring of the wax into the container (unless your child is old enough and careful enough to assist) then your child can choose the fragrance and add the drops.

I love these autumn fragrances from Mystic Moments which include Baked Apple, Caramel, Pear, Bergamot and Musk.

10. Pumpkin picking. Admittedly a very obvious one, but there are lots of ways to power-up the Montessoriness.

  • Pick-your-own pumpkins at a farm provides the perfect opportunity for young children to see how their food grows, and to see the different stages of growth. It is also super healthy and outdoorsy, and helps local businesses so lots of brownie points there.

If you are given a small wheelbarrow, they can push it and fill it, seeing how many pumpkins they can fit, and which ones are heaviest, (gross motor skills, coordination and strengthening muscles – tick, numeracy skills – tick.)

  • Paying for the pumpkins – identifying prices on signs, working out offers like 4 for £5, how many can you buy for £10 etc, asking politely at the till, working out the total and the amount of change. (numeracy – tick, grace and courtesy and practical life skills – tick)
  • Washing the pumpkins – with a brush and a bucket of water is a perfect example of a practical life skill.
  • Sorting the pumpkins by size, colour, shape or texture. (sensorial)
  • Cutting, carving and scooping out the seeds – cutting skills, accuracy, fine motor skills, strengthening muscles in the hand, coordination, transferring.
  • Learning about different parts of the pumpkin – develop vocabulary like pulp, fibres, flesh, skin, centre. (Language skills – tick, KUW/biology – tick)
  • Using pumpkin seeds – clean them, sort them from the fibres, plant them, roast them, eat them, paint them, count them, use them in crafts.
  • Cooking pumpkins – look up recipes online (ICT & literacy skills), follow the recipe instructions, measure ingredients & check oven temperature (numeracy skills), cut/mix/stir/sprinkle and cook (practical life skills). Develop vocabulary with words like ingredients, recipe, nutritious, edible and inedible (language skills)
  • Eating pumpkins – by far the worst bit as they taste revolting. Can be made bearable with the addition of either spices and sugar, or mounds of cream, salt and butter.
  • Decorate a pumpkin – save a couple for young children to decorate with paint, glue, stickers and the inevitable mounds of glitter. Obviously not to be eaten by humans or animals.
  • Monitor decomposing pumpkins – see which one rots faster (experiment with variables like temperature & conditions, size, whole or carved, and watch the hairy mould develop (KUW, biology)
  • Recycling pumpkins – discard your pumpkin carcasses at the bottom of the garden/chuck them in the woods and run away, to provide sustenance for local wildlife. Or use them in compost, feed the scraps to the chickens or gardening beds, hang pieces as bird feeders. (Care of the environment.)


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